Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Henceforth I ask not good fortune; I myself am good fortune.

Walt Whitman

North North
Both ♠ A K 9 8 4 2
 10 7 4
♣ A K 9 7
West East
♠ Q J 10 7 3
 Q 6 3 2
♣ Q J 10 3
♠ —
 10 9 7 4 3
 K J 8 5
♣ 8 6 5 2
♠ 6 5
 A K Q J 8 6 5 2
 A 9
♣ 4
South West North East
1♠ Pass
2 Pass 2♠ Pass
6 All pass    


Today's deal raises the question of whether South was extremely lucky or unlucky. You decide!

South (who reported this deal from a national event with profuse apologies to his teammates) took an unjustifiably cautious view after a limited opening and rebid by North and missed the excellent grand slam in hearts. He won the club lead, crossed to the diamond ace, and played a top heart, to find the tremendous news of the bad trump break.

All that remained was to cross to the spade ace and ditch his diamond loser on the club king. Alas for South, East was able to ruff the first spade and cash a diamond for down one.

The probability of two suits breaking 5-0 meant that declarer had around 999 chances in 1000 of making his contract. But could South plead bad luck? No, the moral of the tale is that even when you spot a 99.9 percent chance for your contract, you should still look for something better.

The correct way to cross to hand is by ruffing a club at trick two. This line only fails if West has led a singleton club and East is void in spades or diamonds.

Of course, any gain for South would have been undeserved so perhaps South was just being magnanimous to go down in six hearts. The really unfortunate declarers were those who played seven no-trump, where the bad break and the poor communications meant that the grand slam had to go four off.

Your partner's double shows real extras and no clear call (perhaps better than a strong no-trump, but without a good heart stop). Your black-suit holdings suggest that you should jump to four clubs to get your pattern across and let your partner decide on which strain to play in.


♠ Q J 10 7 3
 Q 6 3 2
♣ Q J 10 3
South West North East
1♣ 1
1♠ 2 Dbl. Pass

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2011. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


JaneJanuary 5th, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Hi Bobby,

OK, what am I missing on this hand? Why not play the AK of clubs, sluffing a diamond, cross to hand with the diamond ace and start on trumps. Give up the heart loser and claim? I also don’t see any chance for a grand slam in hearts with a 5-0 break. Granted, this is unknown, so are you saying it should have been bid? It seems unlikely with the minimum two spade response from partner that a grand is there, but hope does spring eternal.

Thanks in advance.

Bobby WolffJanuary 5th, 2012 at 11:22 pm

Hi Jane,

Yes, in spite of the unpredictable 5-0 heartbreak (and it really was) South could have made the hand (6H) in a variety of ways. He could have just ruffed the 2nd club, planning on later reaching dummy in spades to discard his losing diamond on the King of clubs, but he got careless and paid a steep price for it.

However, we go from the sublime to the not so ridiculous notion of bidding what would normally be a laydown grand slam in hearts or NT. What needs to be done, especially playing 1970 or earlier bridge is, after the 2 spade rebid, sort of a standard choice after partner bids one’s void, is for South to chirp 4NT and then, as long as keycard BW and other newer slam devices do not cloud the picture, and after a 2 ace response, then 5NT used to ask for number of kings and partner’s answer is 2 which then provides 13 top tricks as long as two people around the table, one being your partner, are not void in the one and same suit.

I’ll now ask you the bridge question of the day. Has bridge gone forward or retrogressed with the modern slam conventions of asking for aces?

I would have to say, overall it has gone forward, but by not nearly as much as so many very good players seem to think. Key card BW and its modern nuances have many defects, including some which are not normally known, and even if they are, not spoken about except perhaps in hushed tones.

While not now choosing to talk about them, I will go on record to say that treating the king of trumps like any of the 4 other aces is not perfect, because the king of trumps quite often is not as valuable as an ace.

You are always more than welcome for any question you care to ask.

JaneJanuary 6th, 2012 at 12:13 am

My preference is RKC, but agree it is not perfect. I like knowing about the five controls, and the queen of trumps if you need to know that as well. A few players here still use Gerber all the time. I have no objection to that either. Back in the beginning of time when I first started to play, Gerber was the preferred system to ask for aces and kings. Most of us were too timid to bid a grand however, and would never do it without all the aces and kings. Times have changed.

Right after I learned RKC, I put my partner in a slam because his answer to the question showed either no controls, or three. I held a good hand or I wouldn’t have been asking, so did not figure out he had opened the worst eleven point hand in history. A slam off three controls usually does not make. Funny how we remember the great hands and the disasters. I learn more from the disasters.

MikeJanuary 6th, 2012 at 4:46 am

To use ordinary BW, just bid 4N over 1S. After that, 5N should also be # of K, not specific K. To use KC for S, confirm trumps first with whatever strong raise one uses. When there is a bid that confirms trumps, bidding 4N without doing so should be ordinary BW. The bidding in this hand should have gone 1S – 4N and then 7H or 7N after finding out about A and K.

Bobby WolffJanuary 6th, 2012 at 6:02 pm

Hi Jane,

In 1971, I was in Taiwan playing in the WC. However, during the RR I was off and watched the French on viewgraph playing one of the other teams. The French had already qualified for the final so they were using makeshift untried partnerships. One then proceeded, after using BW which response of 5C showed 0 or 4. He then bid 7 spades only to discover the partnership was off all four aces. (The opponent with 3 of them doubled after the one with only 1 had passed it around to him).

So you were in good company.

Bobby WolffJanuary 6th, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Hi Mike,

Thanks for your comments about immediately bidding 4NT which, according to you, does not imply partner’s opening 1 spade bid is trump, in fact meaning that the then king of spades is not involved and thus only 4 ace BW is used.

While I concur with your judgment I am not all that sure that most wouldn’t include the king of spades as an ace. However, I do wish that you are right, because I do think it necessary.

MikeJanuary 6th, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

In fact, one of my semi-regular partners did answer KC when i meant straight BW. He opened 1D, I had a similar hand to S except I had 11 tricks! So I bid 4N, and he bid 5D. He was showing 3 KC while I took the bid to show 1 A. I knew something was not right, but he could barely have a hand with just 1 A, so I bid 6. Yikes!

I believe the principle that if there is a way to make a forcing raise to set trumps, then bidding 4N without doing so should be straight BW is sound. There are ambiguous situations of course, e.g. playing 2/1, after 1S – 2H – 3C (opponents passed throughout), is 4N KC (those who play minorwood would not have this problem) or straight BW. However, at least one can agree that 4N directly over 1 suit opening is straight BW.

The worst bid in the hand in your column is 2H. What does one hope to achieve? And to follow that up with 6H over 2S. Crazy, if I may say so.